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Welsh glaciologists to study huge Antarctic lakes

Scientists will drill deep into the ice shelf. Credit: Prifysgol Aberystwyth University

Glaciologists from Aberystwyth University will fly to Antarctica at the beginning of November to study large lakes forming on the surface of ice shelves.

Professor Bryn Hubbard and Dr David Ashmore from the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences’ Centre for Glaciology will be working with collaborators from Swansea University on the Larsen C ice shelf.

Larsen C covers an area two and a half times the size of Wales

It's a long, fringing ice shelf in the northwest part of the Weddell Sea, extending along the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Professor Hubbard and Dr Ashmore will be using hot water to drill up to 150m down into the 200m deep ice shelf to study the many layers of ice that make up Larsen C.

The ice shelf is significant for scientists trying to understand the effects of climate change on Antarctica.

Two other ice shelves in the area, Larsen A and B, have broken up and disappeared since 1995 and scientists have been trying to understand why.

“Despite its accessibility, this region of Antarctica is surprisingly poorly known on the ground. Dark patches on satellite images appear each summer and these are interpreted as large surface melt ponds, but no one has actually studied them on the ground; to date we don’t even have a photograph of the lakes we believe we will see on Larsen C.

– Professor Bryn Hubbard Aberystwyth University

Brecon Beacons flights reveal eagle's 'secret weapon'

Steppe eagles have a wingspan of around 2m. Credit: Heiko Wolfraum/DPA/PA Images

An eagle fitted with its own "black box" flight recorder, flying over the Brecon Beacons, has revealed the soaring bird's secret weapon against turbulence.

By rapidly collapsing its wings when encountering strong gusts of wind, the captive steppe eagle named Cossack was able to stay aloft in conditions that would have grounded fixed-wing aircraft.

Scientists believe other soarers including different eagle species, vultures and kites are likely to employ the same technique.

Cossack was sent on 45 experimental flights wearing a miniature rucksack packed with scientific instruments.

The 75g "black box", which did not interfere with flying, both tracked his position with GPS and recorded measurements of acceleration, rotation rate and airspeed.

Soaring flight may appear effortless but it isn't a free ride. Soaring may enable a bird to travel long distances but it also puts an enormous strain on its flight muscles.

The nature of rising air masses, such as thermals, is that they create lots of turbulence and buffeting that jolts a bird's wings and could knock it out of the sky.

Our evidence suggests that wing-tucking is a direct response to a substantial loss of lift that occurs when a bird flies through a pocket of atmospheric turbulence.

– Prof. Graham Taylor Oxford University

The research is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.


Rare fungus found

The Fen Puffball was discovered in Powys. Credit: Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales says it's uncovered a type of rare fungus previously unknown in Wales during a survey of 200 of the country’s most important bog and fen sites.

The detailed surveys of peatlands in Wales often reveal rare and unusual species and it was during one of these the team found the Fen Puffball (or Bovista paludosa).

The National Peatland Survey has been looking at the benefits of good quality peatlands to people, the economy and wildlife.

Peatland is an important habitat for nature, stores millions of gallons of water to help reduce flooding and stores carbon which helps to combat climate change.

Finding this puffball in Mynydd Epynt in Powys was an added bonus as it's the first time this fungus has been found in Wales, it is extremely rare and only five examples have ever been recorded in the UK.

Such is its rarity that that the Fen Puffball is named on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) list as a UK priority conservation species

Researchers launch buoy to measure wave energy

The buoy is loaded on to Swansea University’s research vessel. Credit: Swansea University

Swansea scientists have launched a research buoy to measure the strength of waves four miles off St Govans Head in Pembrokeshire.

The Directional Waverider buoy will measure wave height and direction in an initial year-long project to work out how much energy is stored in the waves off Wales.

The buoy is launched into the sea off St Govans Head. Credit: Swansea University

Data collected will be used to inform decisions about whether it is feasible to convert this energy into renewable electrical power, via off-shore arrays.

Throughout the project duration, the public can also view the live buoy data online, through the Cefas WaveNet website.

“The marine energy industry in Wales is really starting to take off. This research buoy will allow us to refine our oceanographic models of the area, to inform where the best sites are that can be used by technology to harness our wave energy resource.

“This work will also further contribute to The Crown Estate’s recently designated South Pembrokeshire Demonstration zone, as the primary deployment site in Wales for wave energy converters.”

– Dr Ian Masters Principal investigator


Swansea scientists develop new sensor

Graphene sensors are 'five times more sensitive'. Credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/PA Images

A team of researchers from Swansea University, using the University’s Centre for NanoHealth, say they have developed a highly sensitive graphene biosensor with the capability to detect molecules which show signs of increased cancer risk.

They say the newly developed graphene biosensor could ultimately help to provide a rapid diagnosis at the point of care.

In comparison with other bioassay tests, the sensor was over five times more sensitive.

Conventionally, graphene is produced by stripping layers from graphite.

However for a biosensor, a large substrate area is required in order to produce patterned graphene devices.

The researchers used conditions of low pressure and very high temperatures in order to grow graphene on a substrate of silicon carbide.

The graphene devices were then patterned by using methods similar to those used when processing semiconductors.

The team then attached antibody bioreceptor molecules that could bind to specific target molecules in urine, saliva or blood.

Could sheepdogs eventually be replaced by robots?

Until now, scientists had no idea how the dogs manage to get so many unwilling sheep to move in the same direction. Credit: Stephen Hailes

Sheepdogs follow just two simple rules when rounding up large herds of sheep, scientists have learned.

Dr Andrew King, of Swansea University, fitted a flock of sheep and a sheepdog with backpacks containing extremely accurate GPS devices, designed by colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College in London.

Daniel Strömbom, of Uppsala University, and colleagues then used data from the devices, together with computer simulations, to develop a mathematical shepherding model.

They discovered sheepdogs collect the sheep when they’re dispersed and drive them forward when they’re aggregated. In the model, a single shepherd could herd a flock of more than 100 individuals using these two simple rules.

Scientists say the findings could lead to the development of robots that can gather and herd livestock, crowd control techniques, or new methods to clean up the environment.

New DNA techniques helping with unsolved cases

Advances in DNA technology are being used to help solve what happened to Priscilla Berry.

Detectives are using advances in DNA technology to try and identify human remains discovered in North Wales in the last 50 years.

Under Operation Orchid, officers say they hope to bring closure to families who have lived with uncertainty for a long time.

Criminality is not suspected in any of the cases.

One mystery dates back to January 1980, when female human remains were recovered from the sea 15 miles off Llandudno and were interred at a local cemetery.

Police inquiries with the National Missing Persons Bureau have identified a possible match with 39-year-old Priscilla Berry, possibly of the maiden name Sturgess.

She went missing from her home in Mochdre, Colwyn Bay, in June 1978.

It is now possible to link close family members such as siblings or children through DNA. If we can locate a brother, sister or child of Mrs Berry we can take a DNA sample to compare to the remains.

Although Mrs Berry went missing over 35 years ago, we believe it is still important for her family to know what became of their relative - and we will do all we can to help.

It is by no means certain that the remains are those of Mrs Berry, but the proposed tests should provide a definitive answer.

We are therefore appealing to anyone who is related to Priscilla Berry or knows any of her family members to contact North Wales Police.

– Detective Constable Don Kenyon

Viewers share pictures of last night's 'supermoon'

Mike Davies told us: 'A lucky break in the storm clouds allowed me to capture the supermoon over the Vale of Neath last night' Credit: Mike Davies
The moon appeared 14% bigger and 30% brighter than normal as it reached the point in its orbit closest to the Earth Credit: Mike Davies
Mark Morgan snapped this shot of the supermoon in Cardiff just before midnight Credit: Mark Morgan
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